Subaru and Volkswagen have both done a great job of building vehicles that generate customer loyalty. Many people started out after college in one of these brands and are still driving those cars today. But as these drivers age and the family grows, suddenly there’s a need for a larger family SUV. Until recent years, neither Subaru nor Volkswagen had a three-row SUV that fit the lifestyle of these growing families. Now, however, both manufacturers have vehicles vying for this market share.

Volkswagen first rolled the Atlas out in 2017. It took Subaru a bit longer to grasp the opportunity this market presents but it did get the message, and in 2019, the Subaru Ascent launched in showrooms across the country. While these vehicles both fill the large SUV category admirably, there are differences that you might want to note if you’re looking for a full-size family SUV.

 Adhering to Heritage

The Subaru Ascent and the Volkswagen Atlas approach the large SUV category in different ways. Both vehicles adhere to the standards common to their manufacturers. The Ascent functions well as an extension of the Subaru line; it drives much like any other Subaru, handling bumps with no problem and reliably tackling any road or weather condition. The VW Atlas, on the other hand, benefits from functional German styling. Its ride is a little stiffer so you’ll feel the bumps more. The interior is also predictably more spartan.


The Atlas has a 3.6-liter V6 engine while the Ascent uses Subaru’s 2.4-liter flat-four Boxer engine. Although the Subaru Ascent has a little less horsepower than the Atlas, that fact doesn’t slow it down much. Automotive pundits who have test driven both vehicles find that the Subaru Ascent is a little quicker on the 0-60 mph benchmark, coming in at 6.5 seconds. The VW Atlas gets to 60 mph in 8.0 seconds. Not a huge difference, but for someone enamored of the driving experience, this may make a difference in your purchase decision.


The Ascent pulls slightly ahead when you consider that it comes standard with all-wheel drive, whereas the Atlas requires an upgrade to get that feature. The Ascent also has a continuously variable transmission that works well and shifts when appropriate. The Atlas uses an eight-speed automatic transmission that seems to shift early and often.

Third-Row Seats

Both of these vehicles are notable for their third-row backseat. Many agree that the Subaru Ascent is a bit cramped in the back - at least for adult passengers - giving top points to the VW Atlas in this category. However, the Ascent is built to haul up to eight people while the Atlas seats a maximum of seven.

Decide for Yourself

The Volkswagen Atlas and Subaru Ascent are both fine family-sized SUVs. If third-row backseat comfort is a high priority for you, then the Atlas is probably the best choice. But if you’re a driver who appreciates the finer aspects of engaging in the driving experience, the Subaru Ascent is the way to go. Take the Ascent for a test drive and then decide for yourself.

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